top five breastfeeding essentials

My top five breastfeeding essentials. Apart from breasts, obviously. They’re pretty essential for breastfeeding, I would have thought. The nipple part, at least. Anyway, here are the five things that have made breastfeeding easier and/or more bearable in the trickier moments. I had always assumed that breastfeeding would be a totally instinctive process – the baby would just suck away and all would be well. But there’s a technique – who knew? The baby has to “latch on” properly (get the nipple in the right position in its mouth) otherwise things get painful in the old nip department and the baby doesn’t get a proper feed. I was incredibly lucky that the midwives on the labour ward were very good with feeding help – I couldn’t sit up after the C-section and I only really had the use of one arm, so they would come around and latch the baby on and make sure that the positioning was correct. To be honest, if I hadn’t had that 48 hours in hospital after the birth, I would have been a bit stuck because Angelica was tongue-tied and not really latching on correctly. (All was fine once they snipped the tongue-tie, though I had to hide and sob in the garden when it was done as I couldn’t bear to be there.) There was a period of about three days when my nipples cracked and (UGH) bled slightly, and having to “feed through the pain” was just the most depressing thing in the world, even though I was pain-killered up to the eyeballs. But thankfully there is a magnificent amount of support available these days, for breastfeeding Mums, and so I did lots of internet reading and also bored the visiting midwives to tears with all of my questions…

Anyway, I digress: I’ll do another post on the pitfalls of breastfeeding that I encountered in the first month (and I’m still learning!) but for now, here are my essentials.

top five breastfeeding essentials

1) Lansinoh Cream (£7.33 at Amazon). A total lifesaver, this stuff. I plastered it on when my nipples were sore and cracked – you don’t need to wipe it off before feeding, though I did take off any excess as I didn’t want Angelica to be feeding on 50% milk and 50% lanolin! I still use it now – just a tiny bit every now and then, because it keeps things soft and comfortable. Not as soft and comfortable as when I dunk my overly-engorged boobs into a hot bath (literally the BEST FEELING EVER) but nearly. There are loads of nipple balms out there, but this was the one that every single person without fail told me to get and it works a treat. It’s just very plain and simple.

2) The breastfeeding pillow (£45 from Thrupenny Bits). I resisted the idea of a breastfeeding pillow because – like many people – I wondered why I simply couldn’t bolster up my elbows with some firm cushions from the sofa. But this has been revolutionary – the pillow takes most of the weight of the baby and allows you to calmly and easily correct the way that the baby latches on rather than struggling with holding the baby up and attempting to match up nipple and mouth at the same time. The shape of the pillow hugs the curve of your body – normal cushions are just annoying and you can never get them close enough – and the ties make sure that the pillow can’t move away. Which is what happens with normal sofa/bed cushions. So this sceptic has been converted – there are a few brands who make breastfeeding pillows, but Thrupenny Bits have a different sizes which is important when, y’know, people are all different heights!

top five breastfeeding essentials

3) Lansinoh Pads (60 for £7.55 or 240 for £15.96, you do the maths!, at Amazon). Again, loads of brands do them, these were recommended and I’ve found them to be brilliant. Not bulky and extremely absorbent. Pre-baby, I didn’t realise that breasts could actually squirt milk in a fine stream across a room, but apparently they can. Without any kind of prompting at all. Pre-baby, I wondered what all the fuss was about, in terms of breast pads (surely the milk only comes out when the baby sucks?), but now that I know that breasts can drip like a tap (sorry, TMI) as well as squirt and a number of other milk-presenting tricks, I realise that they are essential.

4) Soft Nursing Bra (£14 Emma Jane at ASOS). This is a completely different kettle of fish to wearing a supportive nursing bra that holds your boobs up properly: I was searching for a completely soft, comfortable nursing bra that I could wear to sleep in. Something with a band that wouldn’t roll up or cut in at my ribs, that would basically just hold my boobs in place slightly and also provide something to stick the breast pads to. This one from Emma Jane is the best I’ve found – it almost feels as though I have no bra on. Which is what I’m aiming for, after six weeks of having my breasts bound up tightly in double-decker-wobble-checkers. I like the fact that it’s hot pink. Lifts the spirits.

top five breastfeeding essentials

5) Kindle Paperwhite (£98.99 at Amazon). Because you can turn the page with one finger. Because it’s light enough to lean up against a feeding baby’s body. Because the built-in backlit screen also acts as a nighlight when you wake up to feed at 3am (and 5am, and all of those other ams) and because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be getting through a hell of a lot of books.

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ruth crilly baby

Right. Apologies. I meant to start this at week 1 and give you all the gory details (bodily fluids, bruises, etc) but the time has absolutely flown by and I now have a baby who is ONE MONTH OLD and a C-section scar that has healed nicely and an arm that no longer bears the marks of a completely inept attempt at inserting a cannula. (More on that in the “not for the squeamish” post that I have in my drafts folder. It’s sat there with the half-finished posts on breastfeeding, top newborn baby products, my birth story, something rambly about breech babies and a rant about how the media deals with the subject of infertility. I’ll get to them, I promise.)

So: a “month one” update, in which I’ll try to give you a brief history lesson on what’s been going on with baby Angelica (sshhh, keep it between us!) and with my body.

Baby: birth weight was 9lbs 11oz and after two days she had dropped to 9lbs 7oz but was back up to her birth weight by day five. So that was all good. At her three week weigh-in she was 10lbs 1oz and I’m pretty sure that she has gained around five thousand kilos since then, because I am developing biceps and shoulders that a wrestler would be proud of. She feeds a lot in the evening (on and off for about six hours!) but tends to sleep for around four or five hours at a time otherwise. I feel extraordinarily lucky that she sleeps for five or even six hours overnight (usually midnight until five thirty and then after a little feed, from about six am until ten or eleven) but I know that babies change constantly and so I’m enjoying this perk while I can!

I had very mixed opinions from Midwives and Health Visitors about the baby sleeping for more than three or four hours at a time: some wanted me to wake her up every three hours to feed her, others said that she was putting on loads of weight and so it was absolutely fine. I worried for a while and tried to wake her after three or four hours, but she wasn’t having any of it and eventually I realised that it was absolutely RIDICULOUS to be trying to force her to feed when she was very happily laying down her own set of rules. After a week or so of panicking (cheers, health people who can never agree on anything and give contradictory advice!) I spoke to a very good midwife who said, very calmly, that I had a big baby who was putting on weight, feeding well and sleeping when she wanted to and to enjoy every minute of sleep that I got. Which is what I’ve been doing.

Body: my C-section scar healed quickly but I was too squeamish to even look at it until last week. (Apart from that, I have a weird saggy belly flap thing that obscures my view of the nether regions and so looking at my scar, which sits on the bikini line at the very bottom of my abdomen, wasn’t all that easy.) I was quite taken aback about the whole C-section experience: it wasn’t a procedure that I had really researched or prepared myself for. Looking back, I’ll admit that there’s a certain arrogance to the way that I assumed I would never need one – I’ll hold my hands up and put that out there – but then after speaking to friends who have also needed emergency caesarians, they assumed the same thing. That they would have a natural birth, with no complications, because they had sailed through pregnancy without too much of a problem and had been labelled “low risk”. It was a total shock to me that my birth didn’t turn out as planned and I do wish that I had at least skim-read the sections on assisted births and c-sections and so on, but then perhaps it was better that I went in with my “positive mental attitude” that I had developed from reading the natural and hypnobirthing books, because as it turned out I was reasonably okay, mentally, with the course that the birth took and I managed to stay as calm as could be expected when a person has a near-phobia of hospitals and a morbid and over-active imagination.

Where was I? C-section. Yes. God, I’m putting my heart on a plate today, aren’t I? I’m virtually asking to be trolled! I was quite surprised at what a major operation it was – I had never really considered that before. When I tried to walk for the first time it was as though someone had removed all of my stomach muscles – I had to hobble to the loo almost doubled over because there was simply no strength in my core to hold myself upright. Nothing hurt, because they pump you full of painkillers (and I took the lot, on advice of the doctor, because apparently if you feel pain then you’re less likely to get yourself up and about and it’s not good to be sedentary and totally bed-ridden after a c-section) but I was incredibly squeamish and had to kind of turn my brain off to be able to go to the toilet. (The two Cs: cannula and catheter. I’ll save those for another post, shall I?)

By the way, none of this is supposed to be scary or “horror-story”: it was all perfectly manageable and alright, really. You know how I hate horror birth stories! It wasn’t the birth I had expected but it was pretty straightforward in that there were no complications or dramas with the c-section. Finding out that my baby was breech after about a million people had “felt the head engaged” was something of a spanner in the old works, but hey! What’s life if there aren’t a few surprises?

Body, body, body…what else? My boobs are huge. Porn star huge. Which has its pros and cons. Pros are mainly that I can balance things on them, and look in the mirror and pretend to be an adult movie “personality”: cons are many and various. The bazoomers are heavy, for a start, and comfy bras just don’t do the job in terms of support. They also make me look about twenty pounds heftier than I actually am, in a kind of matronly way. But they are doing a good job with the baby-feeding (more on that in another post) which is the whole idea, so I’m not complaining. If they look like marbles in a sock when I’ve finished with the feeding: then I’ll be complaining!

My skin continues to be good – no spots or dry patches. It’s actually the best it’s ever been, apart from my eye bags and dark circles, which – if I have no concealer on – make me look like an extra in a zombie movie. I try to make an effort to put on a bit of Bare Minerals Complexion Enhancer and concealer straight after moisturising just to make myself look and feel a bit more alive. If I miss the cosmetics window (the two minutes after brushing my teeth) then I spend the day avoiding mirrors and wondering why the dog is hiding under the table.

That’s all to report, really, for month one: lots of baby growth from baby and daytime-tv-watching from me. There were a few things that took me by surprise, post-birth: I didn’t realise, for a start, that you bleed for weeks or that breast milk actually squirted out in a high-powered stream, like a cow, but I want to address these in a more direct way elsewhere. Also: what the hell are you supposed to wear when you’re in large, high-waisted knickers (needed to hold maternity pads in place and also to avoid chafing the c-section scar) and need to be able to breastfeed every thirty seconds? I’ll be tackling that particular sartorial problem next week.

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newborn baby photo

Apologies to those who don’t follow me on Instagram or Twitter: it must have seemed as though I had suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth! This is the first time I’ve had access to my main computer and also, more crucially, the first time I haven’t had a very small human being attached to my chest. The baby (a beautiful, beautiful girl, born on the 17th June, more details to follow!) is asleep in the pram and I’m seizing the opportunity to “get things done” – though this is the sixth attempt today, so we’ll see how far I get…

11pm: well that went well. A whole paragraph! I’m trying to remember all of the things that I wanted to say in this first update post, but my mind is still quite foggy and I’m not sure where to start. Believe it or not, I actually wrote my last post (Pregnancy Week 41) when I was in early labour. My waters had broken at 4am on the Tuesday morning (16th) and I had been to the birth unit for a quick check-up. I spent the whole of Tuesday and the early hours of Wednesday in a weird state of semi-established-labour: strong contractions that were sometimes only three minutes apart, but then whole periods of time where they weakened off and became less frequent. It was incredibly frustrating, and things weren’t helped at all by the fact that my birthing unit had a policy that labour had to be induced 24 hours after the waters had broken, so I really felt that I was under pressure to “perform” and get the labour established. Apparently the induction policy is because of increased risk of infection once the waters have broken, but quite a few people at the hospital told me that the risk is tiny, I have yet to look up the stats. I really got a bee in my bonnet about the whole induction thing, at the time, but as it happened I never got that far because…

…just before they were about to induce me, they did a final internal check and realised that what at least ten different midwives had thought was a head sitting on my cervix wasn’t a head at all. It was a baby bottom. Baby had been breech the whole time! The funny thing is that I had been paranoid about the baby’s movements for most of the latter part of my pregnancy but hadn’t wanted to say anything because I didn’t want to jinx things: I thought that it was very weird that all of the “kick” movements seemed very low down in my pelvis and the movements higher up were like a rolling sensation. I had mentioned it to a couple of midwives during my antenatal visits but they had said that so long as there were regular movements if I lay quietly then there was nothing to worry about. In retrospect, I should have trusted my instincts, because every time I put my hand on the hard, round thing that was at the top of my belly I knew that it felt like a head! I had felt it from around 32/33 weeks.

The hospital (I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the low risk birthing unit by this point) weren’t incredibly happy about the idea of delivering a breech baby naturally. Although it is entirely possible, the fact that my labour was progressing slowly (the contractions actually stopped completely when I got to the hospital) meant that they would only deliver naturally if for some miraculous reason my labour started again in earnest over the course of the day. And so I ended up having something I had never even considered: an emergency caesarean section! After all of my many hours of breathing practice and visualisation and leg-strengthening exercises (for squatting! Stamina!) I ended up having to confront my absolute worst fear (apart from being trapped in a small space) and prepare myself for surgery. I was an absolute wreck – I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned before that I am somewhat hospital-phobic, but to say that I was jittery would be a total understatement. If my husband wasn’t a total rock and brilliant at keeping me on the level then I think they would have had to have sedated me.

I’m wondering whether anyone would be interested in a proper “birth story” post because I don’t really have much wisdom to impart – once my body was numbed it wasn’t like I had to do very much! Just lie there and call on my meditation techniques (the hypnobirthing practice was still incredibly worthwhile, it kept me a whole lot calmer than I would have been!) and wait for the baby to take her first cry.

And what an amazing first cry it was: quite possibly the most surreal moment of my entire life. One minute I could feel lots of pressing on my tummy and a weird rolling sensation down my body and the next I heard my very own baby taking her first breath. I couldn’t see her because they put a bit screen in front of your face so that you don’t have to watch yourself being worked upon (which I imagine would be quite like having some kind of out of body experience!) but as soon as she cried I felt the most amazing sense of relief and excitement and I was a little bit worried that I might give myself a heart attack because it felt as though my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I had never really allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to hold my baby or see my baby and so I was absolutely unprepared for the moment the midwife brought her around to see us. On the one hand I was totally wired on adrenaline and whatever drugs they had me on and didn’t fully comprehend that this was the little being I had carried around for so many months, but on the other hand it was a bit as though I was being reunited with a very old friend who I hadn’t seen in a long time. The face was completely new and alien to me but at the same time weirdly familiar.

The baby’s sex was a complete surprise; absolutely everyone I know thought that I was having a boy. And I was convinced I was having a boy. Only my husband had a feeling that it would be a girl. So it was a true surprise when they called out “it’s a girl!” (we had asked them to be very old-fashioned about calling out the sex and the whole surgical team humoured us) and also quite a surprise to find out that she weighed a whopping 9lbs 11oz. The midwife at my 40 weeks appointment had guesstimated a baby weight of about seven or seven and a half pounds and so I had packed loads of “tiny baby” clothes rather than “new baby” – I couldn’t believe it when they told me her weight! Though she has an absolutely monster appetite so now that I’ve known her for a couple of weeks it doesn’t surprise me one jot. It definitely explains why most of my baby weight was in the bump – she was obviously snorkelling up those Cornettos and Tracker bars that I was feasting on in the last month!

Ah, The Guzzler is awake: that’s all from me for today. Apologies again that this update is so tardy – I shall be back with much more. If you do want more detail on the whole birth experience then let me know – as I said, there’s not so much to say about the actual delivery part, but I can remember every little thing about the day so if it would interest you then I’ll certainly write a dedicated post. And then I need to start on the baby stuff because I have so much to talk about – heatwaves, nipples, the list is endless!

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